Monday, 30 April 2012

A spectre haunting Europe

The news from Europe is unceasingly grim as the continent’s leaders, elected and unelected alike, join hands to celebrate their fiscal purity while the Euro-ship of state sinks magnificently into the briny deep. This week alone, recession roared back in both Spain and the U.K., but the Hooverite skippers in the politico-financial elite smile bravely, turn their ruddy cheeks to the heavens and steer stubbornly on toward the Promised Land of budgetary austerity. Perhaps they see Ayn Rand smiling down at them from the clouds.

Eleven European countries are now officially in recession, including eight in the euro zone—Belgium, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece and Slovenia, plus Spain as of today—as well as the U.K., Denmark and the Czech Republic. Of the 17 euro-using countries, 11 have had their governments kicked out of office in the last two years, and a 12th, France, is likely to join them next Sunday. In fact, the only major power on the continent that can boast of a stable government is Germany.

No desperately disgruntled electorate anywhere can be expected to act with sober deliberation, and the Europeans are no exception. The most obvious result of these years of economic mismanagement is the quite scary strengthening of the European extreme right, which given recent history, is not a minor matter. The French neo-fascist National Front scored nearly one-fifth of the vote last week, and Greece’s PM is warning voters away from the xenophobic, ultra-rightist Golden Dawn, whose partisans distinguished themselves by assisting the ethnic cleansers of Serbia during the inspiring episode of Srebenica wherein 6,000 Muslim males of all ages were slaughtered and buried in a pit.

None of this should come as a surprise. When the governing class, all the way from tepid social democrats to the traditional right, wallows and bathes in neo-liberal orthodoxy for decades, responds to the crises of their own creation with further opportunistic looting of public property while letting their banker chums entirely off the hook, then intones somberly that There Is No Alternative like a gloomy chorus from Sophocles, people will react emotionally and turn to extreme views. These are not likely to be of a proletarian or solidarity-laden nature, but rather the sort of immigrant-bashing anti-politics that has long been the crucible of the ultra-nationalists. Classic anti-Semitism has been discredited in Europe and remains rather subdued (but far from absent); otherwise, the whole banking crisis would be a field day for the reactionaries to scapegoat Europe’s traditional whipping boy—Jews.

Given the setting, it is disturbing that the trial of mass murderer Anders Brevik in Norway has not attracted more sustained attention and condemnation. Imagine if he were an Afghan or a Palestinian—we’d be hearing no end of the ideological and ethnic connotations of his act while politicians here and abroad would be lining up to demand ever more stringent police actions to pursue, harass, spy upon, round up, prosecute, jail and throw away the key on anyone related to the perpetrator’s third cousin’s childhood nanny. Instead, the worst terrorist to stalk the planet since 9/11 is about to be put away in a humane Nordic jail with barely a peep of interest. For example, I wonder how many news stories have been aired on Fox News of the entire Brevik episode? If and when the reaction of the abused populace turns more violent, we are sure to witness great howls of indignation from the opinion-makers; their virtual silence about Brevik suggests they do not fear his actions or his beliefs nor suspect that they represent any danger to their comforts.

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